Conversations in the world of Virtua Fighter 5 are Tony award-winning stuff:
Big Dude: Hey you! I’m going to teach you a lesson!
Tiny Japanese Girl: [unintelligible Japanese] ^_^!
Big Dude: My body is an unstoppable . . . WEAPON!
Tiny Japanese Girl: [unintelligible Japanese, quizzical expression] ???
Big Dude: This is going to hurt you! A lot!
Tiny Japanese Girl: [giggles, winks, and breakdances]
[image1]Then, perhaps because of the overwhelming frustration of trying to communicate in bad translations of two entirely different languages, the big dude and the tiny Japanese girl conversate . . . in the international language of high punches, kick combos, and over-the-shoulder hi-yaaahs.
Just as in the previous Virtua Fighter games, Virtua Fighter 5 is thick with punches, kicks, counter moves, and throws. But unfortunately, that’s it. The only substantial difference between Virtua Fighter 4 and Virtua Fighter 5 is that 5 is a bigger number than 4. We assume that’s true even in Japanese. [giggles, winks, quick punch combo to your balls]
Virtua Fighter used to be a pretty decent fighting franchise. It wasn’t big on either looks or personalities, but it was a solid arcade fighting experience with realistic martial arts moves and changeable stances. Each character had a long list of possible attacks and combos, but they also had more than one stance, out of which even more attacks were possible. The most illustrative example is the drunken fighter, who, after enough drinks, will stand on his head and jab you in the face with his toes.
All of this returns in Virtua Fighter 5, but now it is no longer fresh. Both Tekken and DOA have already appropriated the “stance” mechanic, and have innovated new looks and types of gameplay as well. Virtua Fighter 5, by contrast, bravely trots out the same tired horse.
[image2]Not that the horse, propped up though it is, doesn’t have some of the same appeal. The fighting relies heavily on reflexes and knowledge of a character’s moves, but also on the old ro-cham-bo dynamic of punching, guarding, and throwing. Here, punches beat throws, throws beat guards, and guards beat punches. This isn’t new to most fight game veterans out there, and one can either be happy that the old formula hasn’t been changed, or upset that they just paid for what looks and feels like a five year old game.
Even though the graphics look better than they did on the old PS2, Virtua Fighter 5 barely fits the description “next-gen.” Many of the old environments from Virtua Fighter 4 are simply rehashed, and most of those look bland. Even the new environments aren’t much better, with few weather effects and no discernable interaction with the fighting. When DOA came out for the 360, it had its own set of problems, but it featured huge multi-tiered stages and it at least tried to render hair. Virtua Fighter has no such graphical ambition.
The characters themselves look like they’ve merely been painted with a “next-gen” quick-fix sheen. Skin fares the worst under this treatment, and characters look like they are either made of porcelain or leather. Though the fighting still moves fluidly, the characters don’t seem to connect with each other in any physical way—sometimes feet or arms pass through each other. On the graphics end, Virtua Fighter 5 is barely pushing the PS3’s vaunted processing power.
[image3]However, the PS3 seems to have to work very hard anyways, though it’s hard to see for what reason. Loading times are long between matches, and absurdly long at start-up. But what could be taxing our favorite new useless luxury item so badly?
It can’t be the sound, which is abysmal. The punches and kicks all connect with the same kung-fu movie fake slaps. The soundtrack is composed on one of those hyperactive Japanese Casio-machines that are to music what ephedrine is to food.
And it can’t be the new storyline, because there is none. That’s right, the main “arcade” mode of the game initially seems like the old “Fight single battles to a final cut scene” formula, but here there are no cut scenes, no rewards for winning the final battle, no attempt at giving the characters any stories at all.
Instead, one supposes that the bulk of the gameplay will be spent in the “Quest” mode, where you go from arcade to arcade on a primitive map. Fighting against other computer-controlled opponents yields money and items which can be used to customize your character. However, the customization options are slim (each character has only four “costumes” for example), and the items take forever to earn.
They also take a long time to load. Moving between menus seems to make the PS3 work really hard. If you earn a new pair of earrings, for example, it can take several minutes just to try them on. And then they don’t even match your shoes. I mean, come on!
[image4]Two new characters join the old Virtua Fighter ranks. Eileen is a little sparkplug who fights “Monkey Kung Fu,” and Blaze is a Mexican wrestler in the Lucha Libre style. Neither seem very different from the rest: Eileen fights a lot like the drunken old man and Blaze is just a quicker wrestler character. The rest look and act the same, and most even wear the exact same costumes that they have been fighting in for years. One would think there would be stains.
And this would be the paragraph about the online multiplayer mode. Except there isn’t one.
Virtua Fighter 5 could win an award for pacifism, because it overwhelmingly asks the question: “Why fight?” It can’t be for the rewards, which are boring. It can’t be for the story, which is non-existent. And it really can’t be for pride, since without any online multiplayer, you are confined to fighting only people who probably have never played before and who might not enjoy coming over to your apartment solely to get their ass kicked. I, for one, don’t want to fight anymore.